The best screen shots
Irish film had a standout year, franchises asserted their dominance, and some of the year’s best films came in documentary form. Donald Clarke and Tara Brady name check the best – and a few of the worst of 2014
We are, I suppose, required to offer a provisional apology to Angelina Jolie. That celebrity’s Unbroken is one of the few films still to screen for critics that might register in this honour roll of 2014 releases.
Mind you, competition this year was gratifyingly fierce. It was a strong year for Irish films and a stonking 12 months for Steve McQueen, Scarlett Johansson, Richard Linklater and Lenny Abrahamson.
As ever, this list covers all films released in Ireland during 2014. So, yes, 12 Years a Slave, Her and Inside Llewyn Davis really do qualify. We first reviewed that last Coen Brothers film a year and a half ago. Don’t blame us; blame the peculiar traditions of film distribution. BEST IRISH FILMS 2013 proved something of an annus horribilis for Irish film: there were poor quality films, minimal box office and a general public distrust of indigenous product. But 2014 produced two genuine (sort of) Irish hits in Mrs Brown’s Boys Da Movie and Calvary, even if neither were top picks around this parish and as such haven’t made it on to our shortlist. TB BEST FRANCHISE FILM This was the year when, following Marvel and DC’s announcement of scheduled projects from here until the new millennium, the total dominance of the franchise became clear. Guardians of the Galaxy almost made it in. But the five films on our list demonstrated the most imaginative ways of reinventing the Superwheel. The Apes movie was particularly fine. DC BEST DOCUMENTARY The new Great Depression. Pioneering Swiss gay activists. A whistle-blower. An iconoclast. An honest politician. Plucky American Samoan footballers. Angry skateboarders. Conclusive legal arguments for gay marriage. A lost T-Rex. A lost film. If you missed this year’s best docs, you really missed out. TB BEST PERFORMANCES This year, we strike out and bring the men and the women together. But it required no engineering to maintain gender balance. At the outré end of the spectrum, Sid Lucero struggled through Norte, Lea van Acken triumphed in Stations of the Cross and Charlotte Gainsbourg went beyond the call of duty in Nymphomaniac. Benedict Cumberbatch confirmed his burgeoning status as egghead du jour. Ethan Hawke was warm and flawed in Boyhood. And Cannes winner Bérénice Bejo confirmed that The Artist was no fluke in Asghar Farhadi’s tricky The Past. DC BEST ENSEMBLE Not every film hangs around one core performance. In honour of co-operation and the genius of in-depth casting, we introduce an award for the wider band of players. All the films feature an array of contrasting styles coming together to produce elegant harmony (or creative disharmony). DC BEST REISSUE Back in the day, the only reissues to make a splash were Stanley Kubrick films, Lawrence of Arabia and the annual undusting of It’s a Wonderful Life. Happily, this year has brought restorations and rarities. And Kubrick. And Lauro. And It’s a Wonderful Life. So everybody’s happy. TB BEST DIRECTOR Obviously, some of our best film candidates could have made it into this batch. But we’ve stretched to honour a few of the better films that have received insufficient attention elsewhere in these pages. From Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan to young pretender Richard Ayoade, the array of film-makers is as rich as it is diverse. DC BEST SCREENPLAY We might have liked a few more indie curveballs of the Computer Chess or Upstream Colour variety. But we did get a Thai Twitter movie, a properly funny “abortion comedy” and an innovative post-Columbine meta-movie. TB BEST CINEMA TOGRAPHY “Best cinematography” does not always imply “most spectacular” cinematography. That said, there were, this year, few images more over powering than those in the stunning documentary Watermark. The Homesman took in western skies. Nightcrawler got the cobalt menace of LA. Leviathan scoped Russian limbos. Palo Alto gave us sleepy suburbia. DC BEST MUSIC Mike Patton is back on Faith No More detail. And Trent and Atticus were not top of their game for Gone Girl. But there were plenty of electro stylings – albeit mostly OST collections rather than proper scores – to savour. Even YA dystopian flat-pack Divergent featured M83. TB BEST ANIMATION You never know. The Lego Movie shares the status of “most unexpected critical smash of 2014” with the recent Paddington. That deranged film’s most serious challenger among domestic releases is the wonderful “last film” (let’s see, shall we?) from Hayao Miyazaki, The Wind Rises. The other three provide laughs galore. DC WORST FILM Some films are just plain bad. Like Brit caper Plastic. And some films get worse the more you think about them. Like Horrible Bosses 2. And then there are films that are so abysmal that to gaze upon them is to go quite mad. Take your evil bow, Nativity 3.